Becker’s ever-better legacy marks PA program

by Luanne Williams

 

To Dr. Roy Blank, certain constants about Roz Becker’s leadership made Wingate’s Physician Assistant Studies program stand out.

“Consistent, solid direction,” says Blank, former medical director of the program. “Always open and looking for ways to make the program better. … She doesn’t rest on her laurels.”

Rosalind Becker

Becker retired this summer after leading the program for nine years. Hired as academic coordinator when the William and Loretta Harris Department of Physician Assistant Studies opened its doors in 2007, Becker became program director in 2011. Over the years, she challenged students to take a holistic approach to healthcare and faculty members to constantly assess what was working and what wasn’t. The result has been well-prepared graduates who have excelled on the Physician Assistant National Certification Exam.

“The physicians and PAs who are clinical preceptors for our students often have students from one or more of the other 11 PA programs in North Carolina. The preceptors often comment that Wingate students are better prepared than other students,” Becker says. Wingate’s PANCE pass rate – 96 percent for the last class – has exceeded the national average for the past seven years.

She attributes the success to several factors that have helped the program stay up-to-date: faculty members review curriculum regularly to ensure coverage of required knowledge and skills; survey data from preceptors, students and graduates is evaluated regularly; and trends are identified to pinpoint areas where curricular changes are needed.

“Even though we had this really successful run on PANCE, even though over the years we’ve had that really strong pass rate, we didn’t just remain static,” says Blank, who also retired this year. “The program has been constant, constant evolution. … It’s just constantly asking how we could be better. And I think she encourages each person within the department to make yourself better.

“We would implement new technology, think of different approaches to teaching, really all aspects of what we provide to the students.”

Dr. Roy Blank teaches PA students about the gastrointestinal tract at the Levine College of Health Sciences at Wingate.

For example, for some of his classes Blank decided to try dictating an audio for students to listen to before tackling a new topic. “They’d have to listen to it before the lecture and they’d have to take a quiz before my lecture, and then I gave the lecture,” he says. He got such positive feedback that he began doing it before every lecture. And he had Becker’s blessing to make the change.

“Roz, as long as that’s working, she’s ‘go with it,’” Blank says. “She wasn’t going to micromanage. She would let me implement new things.”

New technology and approaches were a necessity when Wingate administrators asked Becker to plan and implement a PA program in Hendersonville, a task that she regards as both the biggest challenge and the greatest success of her tenure.

In addition to gaining approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, PA programs must be approved by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). The red tape was difficult to cut through.

“The application required details including evidence of the need for advanced clinical practice providers in western North Carolina and details on how curriculum would be delivered via synchronous distance education,” she explains. “At the time, there were only two distance programs in PA education and few resources to refer to for guidance.”

Nonetheless, with help from fellow faculty members, Becker was able to pull it off. Now the University admits roughly 55 PA students each year: 40 in Wingate and 15 in Hendersonville. Professors on each campus hold synchronous online courses so that students can interact with each other no matter where they attend classes.

“PA faculty not only teach but mentor and advise students throughout their time in the program,” she adds. Among the most foundational pieces of wisdom she passes on is the importance of seeing patients as people first.

“My PA degree is from Kettering College, an Adventist institution,” Becker says. “The Adventist community places a strong emphasis on health and well being. The philosophy of ‘treating the whole person’ was one that I embraced clinically and as an educator long before it was introduced in professional healthcare program curriculums. I hope that the students I taught recognized this: Look at your patient as the child, mother, father, grandparent who is a person, not ‘the diabetic,’ ‘the depressed patient,’ or the ‘angry person.’”

Becker taught in the PA program at Kettering while working directly with patients before coming to Wingate and continued her dual academic and clinical pursuits while at the University. Although retired from the classroom, she plans to keep working at least two days a week at Shiland Family Medicine in South Carolina.

Learn more about Physician Assistant Studies at Wingate and the program’s new director, David Weil.

Sept. 2, 2020

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